NATURAL England, the Environment Agency and the Forestry Commission have joined forces to investigate "unconsented works" on the river Lugg at Kingsland.

While locals have come out in support of the work which they say will alleviate flooding, there has been public outcry from around the UK after the story was first reported on Thursday.

Here's what we know so far.

What work has taken place, and where?

The three agencies said they came together to jointly investigate the reports which included the river being dredged, trees illegally felled and the reprofiling of river banks.

Hereford Times:

In a joint statement issued on Friday, they said the works have the potential to cause significant, long term ecological harm to nearly 1.5km of the river near Kingsland.

The works to the river can be seen from the bridge on Lugg Green Road between the village's GP surgery towards Yarpole.

What has been said by Natural England, the Environment Agency and the Forestry Commission?

The three agencies said they came together to invesigate "unconsented works".

On Friday, with the support of West Mercia police, officers from the three bodies were at the site with officers from Herefordshire Council, to investigate and seek formal evidence for the alleged offences.

A legal notice requiring the works to stop immediately was served on the landowner by Natural England last week, while the Forestry Commission issued a stop letter requiring an end to any further felling work and the Environment Agency requested no further works to be carried out on the river two weeks' ago.

Hereford Times:

Emma Johnson, Natural England area manager, said: “I’m shocked by the destruction I’ve seen to this very special river.

“Sites of Special Scientific Interest represent our finest places for wildlife and geology and Natural England is responsible for ensuring their protection, working with landowners and managers to achieve this. We have regulatory powers to prevent damage taking place to SSSIs but where this does occur we can take appropriate enforcement action, including prosecuting offenders.

“The river Lugg is a very special place due to the ecology of the river and surrounding area. Natural England and our partners are working together to take strong action to ensure a wide-ranging and thorough investigation is carried out.”

Keith Jones, area director for the Forestry Commission, added: “I’m appalled at what has happened. Trees are a precious natural resource, which is why anyone wishing to fell them must ensure they comply with the Forestry Commission’s felling licence requirements.”

Dave Throup, area environment manager for the Environment Agency, said: “This is a beautiful part of the world. To see the changes from last week to this is terrible. We’re working closely with our partners to ensure this is thoroughly investigated.”

What has Herefordshire Wildlife Trust said?

Herefordshire Wildlife Trust said it discovered that the river and its banks had been "bulldozed, straightened and reprofiled into a sterile canal, with all bankside and riverside habitats completely obliterated".

The Lugg flows from its source in Powys through Herefordshire before meeting the River Wye just outside Hereford, and the trust said its riverbanks, gravels and beds of water crowfoot are home to crayfish, otters and salmon, lampreys and dragonflies and a host of rare river wildlife.

Helen Stace, CEO of Herefordshire Wildlife Trust, said: “A large stretch of one of the UK’s most important rivers, the Lugg, has been devastated with dire consequences for wildlife and water quality downstream – this is a tragedy.

"The bankside trees are all grubbed out and burnt, the river gravels have been scraped away and the beautiful meanders of the river have been straightened and reprofiled.

"As former leader of the English Nature rivers team which notified the Lugg as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, I know this river to be one of the most enchanting tree-lined reaches with immense value for wildlife.

“This is a crime against the environment. Swift action needs to be taken and we want to see the authorities investigate the matter swiftly.

"We expect this case to be dealt with in a serious and robust manner and any resulting prosecution should act as a deterrent to prevent anyone committing this type of crime ever again.  We will also be calling for restoration of the river to its natural channel.”

What has the landowner said?

Farmer John Price has admitted being responsible for clearing the riverbank, according to Saturday's Daily Telegraph.

Mr Price, of Hay Farm, said he had acted with permission.

He told the Telegraph: "I have watched this river all my life, and no one knows this river better than myself. 

"I have always looked after the river. I was asked to stop the erosion because I'm the land owner so I'm responsible for the river."

He said he had not uprooted any trees, but had only cleared those that had come down in floods.

He said flooding in the area had been getting worse over the last 10 years, and that he had the support of the village and parish council in doing the work. 

What has the parish council said?

Kingsland Parish Council, which represents the local community, released a statement confirming that it is aware of the incident at Kingsland, which has provoked a national outcry.

The parish council said it has been in talks with the Environment Agency, and agency officers attended online council meetings.

The council said: "A site meeting with the agency in September 2020 identified issues near the bridge, and the Environment Agency subsequently wrote that 'the left hand bank directly upstream of the bridge could do with some reprofiling due to bank slumping... to ease conveyance as it is currently partially obstructing the third arch of the bridge and will look to the landowner to carry out these works'."

Another issue highlighted by the Environment Agency was “a build-up of silt and growth mostly Himalayan balsam on both the upstream and downstream sides,” the council said.

"The parish council supports work to improve the Lugg that is undertaken at the direction and instigation of the Environment Agency and is in line with the appropriate guidelines, regulations and processes that may be applicable."

Minutes of Kingsland Parish Council meetings from July, September and October of this year contain items about the "maintenance of the Lugg".

In July, an item reported on concerns about the risk of river flooding.

It was noted that trees and branches in the river might need removing, "this includes the ash tree by Lugg Green bridge which Environment Agency is already aware of.

"The size of this tree may mean it is not removed but moved and placed in a suitable area at the side of the river.

"Doubtful if more significant flood defences would happen given the relatively low number of properties affected – flood defence budgeting at the EA is prioritised by collective value of property affected."